Nebraska is coming off of perhaps its best performance this season, though it came in a 41-24 loss at Wisconsin.
Northwestern is definitely coming off of its best game this season; last week the Wildcats stunned then-ranked Michigan State on the road, 29-19.
The teams meet on Saturday (noon ET, ABC) trying to improve on their play last week. Here are 5 things I’d like to see from the Cornhuskers in Evanston, Ill., this weekend:
Continue ‘tude turnaround
Coach Scott Frost has spoken about how frustrated he is that his Cornhuskers are so undisciplined. But he said this week that the team’s “whole attitude is turning a corner” after an 0-5 start. Nebraska needs to be more focused and more motivated, and the longer Frost harps on those themes the more one assumes that they will sink in with his players eventually.
Don’t allow big gap in free yards
It’s a continuous theme with Nebraska this season, but … yes, we’re bringing up penalties again. It’s no secret that Big Red is the worst in the B1G and 125th in the nation in penalty yards with 487, nearly 100 per game. But that stat sticks out even more in this matchup because Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald has his bunch playing its usual disciplined brand of football. Northwestern has been called for the fewest penalty yards in the conference and sixth fewest in FBS with just 171, about 35 yards a game. If the Cornhuskers can even keep this category close it will bode well for them.
Exploit NU secondary
The Wildcats are 11th in the Big Ten and 103rd in the nation in passing defense, allowing an average of 255.2 yards a game through the air. Adrian Martinez is coming off of the best day of his freshman season, a 384-yard passing performance against Wisconsin. Martinez had 441 total yards of offense in that game and seems to be back to full speed after missing a game last month with a knee injury. With both him and receiver J.D. Spielman (a school-record 209 receiving yards) coming off of a big game against the Badgers, and Northwestern perhaps missing starting cornerback Greg Newsome II and linebacker Nate Hall, the Cornhuskers should pass well.
Translate yards into points
Nebraska is moving the ball OK — not as well as a Scott Frost offense is designed to move, but OK. The Cornhuskers are seventh in the B1G in both rushing and passing offense and fifth in total offense at 432.2 yards a game. The problem is, they’re not turning enough of that production into points. Nebraska is 13th in the conference and 114th in the country in scoring average at 21.8 points per game. This is the game to boost those stats especially when Nebraska gets close to the end zone, because Northwestern is worst in the B1G in red zone defense, allowing scores 93 percent of the time.
Stay perfect in Evanston
One oddity has emerged in the annual series between Nebraska and Northwestern since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011: The road team has won all but once. Nebraska has only beaten the Wildcats once in Lincoln, and Northwestern has never topped the Cornhuskers in Evanston. Nebraska is 3-0 at Ryan Field.